Out on Friday 23 September
Chris Pratt and Denzel Washington giddy up. Gemma Arterton discovers the kids are all bite.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of The Magnificent Seven, The Girl with All the Gifts, Imperium, The Lovers and the Despot, De Palma, Little Men, Aloys, Dare to Be Wild, A Good American, Light Years, Baden Baden, and Gangsters Gamblers Geezers.
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The Magnificent Seven
Remaking John Sturges’ crowdpleaser – a western beloved by even those normally left saddle sore by the genre – might be considered sacrilege… except that the hallowed 1960 picture is itself a remake. Sturges transposed Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 masterpiece Seven Samurai from Japan to Mexico, with a septet of sharpshooters rather than ronin now hired to protect a peasant village from rampaging bandits.
Not that such an argument would stretch far had director Antoine Fuqua and writers Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto produced something deserving of a title like The Modest Seven. Fuqua would have got it with both barrels regardless of the true backstory – or, indeed, the fact Sturges’ film, which birthed three sequels and a TV show, has already been reimagined as a space opera (Battle Beyond the Stars), an Italian sword-and-sandal epic (The Seven Magnificent Gladiators), and a Pixar animation (A Bug’s Life (opens in new tab)).
Thankfully, this version is locked and loaded. Set in and around frontier town Rose Creek in 1879, it opens with Peter Saarsgard’s industrialist Bartholomew Bogue making an aggressive offer (literally – he torches the town’s church) for the residents’ land. In a rush to get at the gold, he swears to be back in three weeks, and they’d better be gone. What choice is there given Bogue has the sheriff paid off and a posse of squinty-eyed, itchy-fingered men in his employ?
There’s one alternative: hire warrant officer Chisolm (Denzel Washington) to round up six more guns to defend the town. There’s explosives expert Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), Confederate sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), scalp-hunter Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) and Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). Having assembled like proto-Avengers, they train the timid townsfolk in the art of war…
Washington is badass. Teaming with Fuqua for a third time, after Training Day (opens in new tab) and The Equalizer (opens in new tab), he plays, essentially, the part occupied by Yul Brynner in Sturges’ movie and Takashi Shimura in Kurosawa’s original – a daunting prospect, but no problem when you possess Washington’s experience, authority and cache of cool.
From the moment Washington rides in, backlit by the blazing sun and dressed all in black upon a midnight steed, he owns the film. “I seek righteousness but I’ll take revenge,” Chisolm growls upon hearing the name Bogue; in one of several story tweaks, it’s clear there’s a personal backstory here.
Chisolm’s gang includes an Irishman, a Mexican, a Native American and a Korean as Fuqua both addresses Hollywood’s diversity issue and reminds Donald Trump that America was built upon immigrant spirit. Each character is fleshed out, morphing from merc to saviour, with the cast, like forebears Brynner, McQueen, Bronson et al., being a pleasure to hang with.
Jawing aside, The Magnificent Seven thrills with its iconography and action. Leone-style close-ups fetishise narrowed eyes under low, wide brims; horses gallop across widescreen plains in clouds of dust; a rowdy saloon falls deafeningly silent upon the entrance of a stranger; low-slung shots worship the seven walking in a line; a thrilling orchestral score features breakout horns, plucked banjo strings and hints of Elmer Bernstein’s galvanising original music; and Red Harvest dons Stars ’n’ Stripes war paint.
“You speak Comanche?” Harvest asks Chisolm. “You speak white man’s English?” comes the response. This is a western with political intent, though the brutal finale is open to interpretation – a celebration of the Second Amendment as townsfolk protect their homes, or an unblinking stare at the terrible violence that befalls the right to bear arms?
A startlingly barbarous set-piece, this climactic shootout recalls Peckinpah in the intensity of its violence. Don’t be fooled by the 12A certificate. This hurts, with guns, knives, arrows, cannons, dynamite and machine guns ratcheting up a kill count to make Rambo weep, while impact is maximised by having damn-near every corpse plummet off a roof. After a summer of mediocre blockbusters that elicited a collective ‘meh’, it’s a joy to feel once more.
THE VERDICT: Not quite magnificent but certainly Fuqua’s best since Training Day (opens in new tab) and a rare remake that actually delivers. Yee-haw!
Director: Antoine Fuqua; Starring: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Peter Sarsgaard; Theatrical release: September 23, 2016
The Girl with All the Gifts
Between The Walking Dead’s divisive Season 6 finale (opens in new tab) and Arnie non-event Maggie, zombie-watchers haven’t been deprived of undead downers lately. Happily, Scottish TV vet Colm McCarthy (Doctor Who, Sherlock) brings something new to the table with his second feature, a savage, stylish riff on M.R. Carey’s smartly allegorical 2014 zombie novel. Working from Carey’s script, McCarthy weds care to scares in a subtext-rich spread of charged character conflicts and loaded leaps of empathy: plot wobbles aside, there’s hope for old horror staples here.
The focus is a kid who might eat your face if crossed, yet Girl… summons sympathy for Sennia Nanua’s Melanie. Banged up and fed grubs in military camp, she’s one of several kids viewed with clashing opinions by adults. Since these zombie kids are oddly intelligent, teacher Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) wants to educate. Paddy Considine’s Sgt. Parks advises discipline; Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close), meanwhile, prefers dissection, hoping the kids’ brains will offer clues to cure a fungal zombie virus (based – shudder – on real fungal infections) that’s left Britain devastated.
Even this far into zombies’ screen evolution, McCarthy brings fresh ferocity to his ‘Hungries’, as they’re called here. Their guttural, chattering mannerisms rattle the nerves. A containment break-out scene, meanwhile, truly chills and thrills: in a miracle of low-budget filmmaking, the flesh-ripping action erupts like a riot between Aliens (opens in new tab) and Saving Private Ryan (opens in new tab).
As Justineau, Caldwell, Parks, fellow soldiers and a muzzled Mel survive and flee across country to a safe beacon, McCarthy balances threat, thematic concerns and post-apocalypse context with care. The ravaged Britain (alas, poor Pret…) depicted lends big-screen punch to scorched Brit-turf familiar from TV classics such as The Day of the Triffids. Later, a feral encounter with a young Hungry gang makes Lord of the Flies look like The Goonies.
The plot rambles slightly, but subtexts are clearly seeded in character. McCarthy’s film reflects generational tensions like Roald Dahl’s Matilda with the fleshy munchies. The conflicting adult attitudes towards handling undead youth have potent implications. Which is better: empathy, scientific efficacy or extreme control?
Either way, the leads embody each position well: Considine weaponises his perma-frown, Arterton emotes and Close gamely embraces genre fare as an ambiguous scientist with Alien-vintage Veronica Cartwright hair. But McCarthy’s stealth weapon, in more ways than one, is Nanua, who toggles between recognisable pre-teen behaviour, unusual appetites and hints of something more – a preternatural intelligence working behind the eyes…
Some daft behavioural moments slacken the tension (clue: porn mags), but that intelligence is otherwise well served by the teasing finale. Divisive? Sure, but it’ll provoke post-film debate. One thing is sure: there’s life in zombies yet.
THE VERDICT: Tender, terrifying, ingenious and intense. Nanua stands out amid crack casting: gifted, indeed.
Director: Colm McCarthy; Starring: Sennia Nanua, Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close, Paddy Considine, Fisayo Akinade; Theatrical release: September 23, 2016
Post-Potter, Daniel Radcliffe has made some commendable choices – and on paper, Daniel Ragussis’ thriller looks sound. But this Deep Cover-style tale, in which Radcliffe’s FBI loner Nate Foster infiltrates a white power gang, is strictly by numbers. Radcliffe, with shaven head, is solid – one minute hurling racist abuse, the next preventing an interracial couple from being beaten.
But with Ragussis busy orchestrating tension around Nate’s cover being blown, we rarely dip into the far-right ideology or the damage it’s doing to his psyche. Featuring Toni Collette as a bullish FBI boss, it feels like an opportunity missed.
Director: Daniel Ragussis; Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Toni Collette; Theatrical release: September 23, 2016
The Lovers and the Despot
The real-life flip side to The Interview (opens in new tab)’s insanity is this intriguing doc about Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee, a South Korean auteur and his wife/leading lady who were kidnapped by Kim Jong-il in 1978 and tasked with resuscitating the North’s ailing film industry. It sounds too loopy to be true, and perhaps it was. (Some believe it was more defection than abduction.)
In the hands of directors Robert Cannan and Ross Adam, though, this bizarre footnote in the annals of international cinema exerts a queasy fascination – as does the sound of a megalomaniacally ranting Kim.
Directors: Ross Adam, Robert Cannan; Theatrical release: September 23, 2016
Covering Brian De Palma’s six decades in cinema, this energising doc comments on just about every one of the director’s 29 features (Scarface, Carrie, Mission: Impossible et al.). The man himself is the sole interviewee – a risky strategy but one that pays off here; whether dissing his Obsession star Cliff Robertson or conceding mistakes on The Bonfire of the Vanities, he’s illuminating, hilarious company.
Directors: Noah Baumbach, Jake Paltrow; Starring: Brian De Palma; Theatrical release: September 23, 2016
The treasure’s in the details in Ira Sachs’ latest New York story. Entwining the tales of a bond between two 13-year-old boys and their parents’ disputes, Sachs uses forensic character studies to make themes – class, gentrification – resonate emotionally. Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle and Paulina García nail flawed adulthood, though young leads Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri steal the show.
Director: Ira Sachs; Starring: Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle, Alfred Molina; Theatrical release: September 23, 2016
Aloys Adorn (Georg Friedrich) is a Zürich-based PI spying on cheating spouses. After waking from a drunken snooze to find his tapes nicked, he’s phoned by a lady claiming responsibility… Debut writer/director Tobias Nölle plays mind games with us about Aloys’ caller: how much of what he hears and sees is real? Nodding to The Conversation, this is an intriguingly controlled, highly original thriller.
Director: Tobias Noelle; Starring: Georg Friedrich, Tilde von Overbeck, Kamil Krejci; Theatrical release: September 23, 2016
Dare to Be Wild
This true-lifer charts Irishwoman Mary Reynolds’ bid to win gold at the 2002 Chelsea Flower Show with her wild designs. You can’t help feeling Reynolds’ experience has been forced into the mould of a work versus love-life romcom, but it entertains thanks to Emma Greenwell’s endearing lead turn. At times laugh-out-loud cheesy, it’s a hard film to hate – but a bit too nice to inspire much passion.
Director: Vivienne De Courcy; Starring: Emma Greenwell, Tom Hughes, Alex Macqueen; Theatrical release: September 23, 2016
A Good American
Friedrich Moser’s documentary suggests the NSA could’ve prevented 9/11, but didn’t due to incompetence and greed. Former analyst William Binney says ThinThread – a cheap surveillance tool capable of cutting through masses of cyber chatter – was dismissed in favour of private-sector failure Trailblazer. A sensational claim, but it lacks hard evidence or opposing perspectives.
Director: Friedrich Moser; Starring: Bill Binney; Theatrical release: September 23, 2016
Bafta-winner Esther May Campbell makes her feature debut with a woozy, contemplative drama that looks (and moves) like a painting. Tragedy sends a dad (Muhammet Uzuner) and his kids reeling over the course of one hazy summer day. There are obviously a lot of bright futures among cast and crew, but the script lacks a nail of genuine emotion on which to hang all the pretty pictures.
Director: Esther May Campbell; Starring: Sophie Burton, Zamira Fuller, James Stucke; Theatrical release: September 24, 2016
After losing yet another job, 26-year-old Ana (Salomé Richard) returns to her hometown Strasburg, where she catches up with old friends and attempts to redo her ailing nan’s bathroom. It feels somewhat apt that the story is as directionless as its protagonist. On the other hand, writer/director Rachel Lang’s film lacks cumulative dramatic punch, its appeal rooted mainly in its easy humour.
Director: Rachel Lang; Starring: Salomé Richard, Claude Gensac, Lazare Gousseau; Theatrical release: September 23, 2016
Gangsters Gamblers Geezers
Krish and Lee (played by first-time writer/directors Amar Adatia and Peter Peralta) are cocky stoner friends given 48 hours to pay their rent. Cue a farcical adventure involving gangs, terrorism and a cameo by Jodie Marsh. Look past the amateur acting and edit-suite sloppiness and there’s still offensive dialogue and childish gags.
Directors: Amar Adatia, Peter Peralta; Starring: Rahul Kohli, Jessica-Jane Stafford, Richie Campbell; Theatrical release: September 23, 2016